Sunday, January 11, 2015

My Own Reading Rainbow

One educational blog that I consistently read is Burkins &Yaris Think Tank for 21st Century Literacy. My classes are currently participating in a bit of action research by organizing our classroom library as suggested in the Burkins &Yaris blog post What Color is Your Library? We took all of the leveled chapter books out of their labeled baskets and arranged them according to color. Our book shelves are now a reading rainbow!
I tweeted out to Burkins & Yaris to let them know I was trying it and they asked me to report my observations.
This is what I have noticed after one week:
  • it was important to keep the nonfiction books leveled due to text complexity
  • the children saw books they didn't even know about before
  • the majority of our chapter books are blue
  • students choose books with red or black covers most often
  • we had to problem solve to decide if we should count a book as colored if it had a white cover but colored writing (yes, we used the title color to shelve it)
  • students enjoy choosing books that are not on their level
  • we did do a quick reminder of choosing just right books
  • the library stayed neater than usual

Making Good Choices

During the month of January, I needed to do middle-of-year running records on my 60 students. Yes, this is time-consuming. I needed a way for students to be able to work independently so I could get my assessments completed.
I designed a choice chart as a culminating activity for our nonfiction unit. All students must complete the activity in the middle and then choose 2 other ones.  The activity in the middle uses leveled Social Studies readers, so that activity matches each student's reading level.  The other activities are based on multiple learning styles. I included activities with drawing, singing, writing, reading, poetry, vocabulary, text structure, main idea, and technology. There is a little something for everyone!
Students could work with small groups, partners, or independently.

As students completed their activities they posted the name of the activity on the Parking Lot.

These Are A Few of My Favorite Things

This is a jumbled post that is meant to share ideas...just give names of apps, books, and games that are at the top of my favorites list in the classroom. Some are at the top of my teacher list, but the majority are favorites of my students as well.
Decide Now is a customizable spinning wheel app. I use it to call on students. I am currently working on a Q & A spinner set up to resemble the current pop phenomenon know as Trivia Crack.
This book is wonderfully useful because it gives ready-made anchor charts for a variety of reading strategies, but I love to reference it when creating my own charts.
This app is called Classroom Timer Lite.  I can't remember if it was free or not.  I subscribe to an app called Apps Gone Free which offers me daily deals, so I think I found the timer through that.  If it did cost money I know it was cheap because I normally don't spend much on apps.
This classroom management app is a fantastic tool. I like it because it helps students stay on task. It does not make them stay quiet.  My classroom is rarely quiet because students should be talking, questioning, and discussing. This app allows you to customize your noise level preferenes.
The following is a list of apps that my students use in the classroom:
  • Kids Discover (several topics and titles)
  • Baloney! (multiple subjects and grade levels)
  • Crazy Machines (science and engineering)
  • iTooch (multiple subjects and grade levels)
  • Far Faria (books)
  • Frontier Heroes (history)
  • Geography Drive (social studies)
  • Mr. Nussbaum (multiple subjects and grade levels)
  • My Talking Pet (I use it for creating talking characters)
  • New-o-Matic (current events)
  • Puffin Academy and RAZ Kids are programs purchased by my district
  • Reading Timer
  • Stack the States (social studies)
  • Word Wizard (spelling)
  • World Atlas

Anomia is a great game to build vocabulary and get the brain revved up for learning.  I use it at the start of class each day. Sometimes we share our ideas orally, but usually students write their ideas in their Reading Notebooks.
I love using the app Plickers to quickly assess students using multiple choice and T/F questions.  It is paperless and engaging with immediate feedback for students and teacher.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Green Day and Natalie Merchant Came to School!

I love the feeling I get when a student completely NAILS an assignment. It is an amazing moment when you read a student response and they explain their thoughts with depth and feeling. I am so proud of the responses my students shared during this lesson.
During our unit, Following Characters into Meaning, we read the book Wonder by RJ Palacio. Several times in the book, the author refers to songs or uses songs as chapter titles. She uses quotes from songs to divide the book into sections. She cites certain songs that relate to certain characters. Two of the songs she happens to use are in my list of favorites on my iPod. They are songs I have heard live in concert. They are songs that my students had never heard.  So I felt it was my duty to change that. 
That is why my students grooved to Wonder by Natalie Merchant and rocked out to When September Ends by Green Day!
One of my professional goals this year is to make a concerted effort to spend more time exposing my students to a variety of genres. I'm not just going to teach the typical units that are required. I plan to incorporate genres throughout all of my teaching. Music is poetry so it fit perfectly into my plans!

I gave students the lyrics so they could follow along as they listened to the songs. The first time they simply listened to the song. The second time they sang along (if they wanted to), danced, and played air guitar and/or drums. The third time they made notes on their lyric sheets. For the first song I simply had the lyrics printed on the sheets. For the second song I added in guiding questions.

You can tell this student takes music lessons by his notations.

She made a personal connection to her religion by commenting that God should be capitalized.

He labeled the poetry pattern in the stanzas of the lyrics!

A Sticky Situation

My students keep collections of their jottings in a portfolio. When they learn a new strategy, sometimes they struggle to write about it. They may understand how to use the strategy, but they may have trouble citing text evidence. The students (and myself) can see how their jottings improve over time. They also have a collection of my comments to them.
Well, I teach 49 students in my two blocks of Literacy...
               and that can be time-consuming and tiring to write comments on all of my students' jottings.
So I type specific comments regarding the strategies I am assessing and I print them out on address labels. This makes it easy for me to select the comment I want to share with the student. Then I just stick it on!

When I am done reading all of my students' jots, I have a visual of the group as a whole. I can see which strategies they are successful with and which ones they need to practice.

WONDERful Jottings

Jottings are an important part of a Balanced Literacy framework. Yes, the sticky notes are abundant and can be found everywhere! How can you manage the jottings and use them for instructional purposes? When I assign students specific jotting topics, the students turn their writing in on the Parking Lot. I have students design the Parking Lot to reflect the current unit of study.
During our unit, Following Characters into Meaning, we read the book Wonder by RJ Palacio. Students designed their parking spaces in the style of August, the main character.

I can get an instant visual of who did not complete their jotting. I can quickly read over their jots to see who needs to conference with me. I will conference with students who used the targeted strategy incorrectly.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

I Got a Pocket, Got a Pocket Full of Sunshine

I am weird...I adore a great pocket chart! I love bright colors, various sizes, interesting shapes, and different pocket dimensions. When I started teaching 19 years ago there was 1 type of pocket chart--blue and large. Now I have one that is apple shaped, some that are simply 1 pocket, a long one that can hold books, and I even have some I made myself out of file folders folded in half.
Pocket charts are my go-to organizational tool because they are simple to use and you can easily change the information on display.  We have completed one week of school and here are the tools that adorn my classroom walls:
Every student in my class has a job. We are a community and every student is expected to participate. Students chose their jobs and this charts reminds them what roles they have. It is also useful when a substitute is in the room. If students want to switch jobs, I can easily change the cards.

This pocket chart has little individual compartments so it is perfect to post how students go home each day.  This one is displayed by the exit. I use this chart every single day!

This is my Wish List of items that could help enhance our classroom activities and atmosphere. Guests to my room can take a card and then return with the item. I have checked off the items that people (including my own mom) have donated.  Thank you so much to everyone who has made a donation already!

This display reminds students of their Writing Partners. It keeps me organized, lets administrators see how my students are paired, and allows guest teachers to have a way of knowing which students can work together well. In a week or so (after we determine reading levels) I will fill in the Reading Partnerships pocket charts.
This is our Book Shopping schedule for the classroom library. I like to use colorful paint sample cards to differentiate between my Block I and Block II students. Students can reference this chart to know when it is their day to choose new books for their Reading Baggies.
I will end this post with a tip--Dollar Tree and Target have terrific $1 pocket charts throughout the year!  Just keep your eyes open!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Honey, We Think Reading is Wonderful!

I teach 2 blocks of 4th grade Balanced Literacy. My students are at- or above-grade level. We use the Lucy Calkins units of study.  Our first unit is Building a Reading Life.For Lesson 1, I chose to use the book The Bee Tree by Patricia Polacco. During this lesson, students reflect on what makes reading wonderful for them. They think back over their lives as readers and identify pitfalls and peaks. In this book a young girl would rather be outside running than sitting inside reading. So her grandfather takes her on a journey to find a tree where bees make honey. Several people join their adventure along the way. Students learn that reading is as sweet as honey, but it takes hard work, support from other people, and some stickiness to become a successful reader.

At the end of the book, grandfather puts a drop of honey on the girl's book to remind her that reading is sweet. Right before I got to that part, I put a drop of honey on each child's finger. I told them not to do anything right away...I told them they would feel what to do when the time is right. They all started licking their honey as I read grandfather's words to the girl...perfection! The smiles and head nods told me they understood! For my Teach Like a Pirate colleagues, this Chef Hook was certainly a hit.  I hope these students will always remember that reading is sweet.

During Independent Work Time, students made jottings about a time in their lives when they discovered that reading was sweet and wonderful. I keep the blocks' sticky notes different colors so they each have their own identity.
Here are some of their jottings: